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May 2022

IT organized like a nineteenth-century factory?

The world is on the brink of the fourth industrial revolution. Thanks to IT, production processes are many times faster, quality has improved and robots have taken over dull and repetitive jobs. As a result, the staff can focus on the tasks that really matter.

But what about the IT department itself? The department’s role focuses on prediction. Quality is deemed to be good if we record an ‘uptime of 99.98%’, schedule regular maintenance, issue project progress reports and achieve an incident resolution time of just a few hours. Metrics of this kind may make IT processes extremely predictable, but they are anything but flexible or results-oriented. Delivering IT services on time is becoming increasingly difficult and costs are rising as a result. In addition, the predictability of the work can prove very demotivating for staff. 
So how is it possible that IT has completely transformed industry, but still finds itself stuck in the nineteenth century? This despite the fact that, without information technology, the fourth revolution would not even be possible. So, what exactly has gone wrong? And how do we resolve it? Guido Groeneweg has the answer.

Where it all started: economic upheaval

The first industrial revolution started in the mid-eighteenth century in the UK and had a radical organizational impact on the way people work. It heralded the development of mass production in large factories, linked to a technical bureaucracy. This focused more on managing internal technical processes than on the people they were all intended to serve. The result was dull, repetitive, demoralizing work.
Developments in industry continued at a rapid pace. The second industrial (and also technological) revolution started in around 1870 and was marked by countless revolutionary inventions, including the automobile, photography, aircraft, light bulbs and radio. Although, at the outset, there was no room for flexibility (a model T Ford was available in any color, as long as it was black), the evolving market demand and technical possibilities soon changed that. 

Increasing importance of organizational structures

It was only in the 1960s, at the height of the third industrial (or digital) revolution, that organizational structures became increasingly important and the popularity of the matrix organization took hold. Organizations opted to structure departments by discipline and began project-based work. Increasing numbers of companies replaced direct management by a line-management structure. This provided room for staff contributions and creativity, which in turn ultimately helped boost the bottom line.
This was when, in 1980, Mintzberg, an authority in the field of organizational structures, coined the term Adhocracy, the opposite of bureaucracy. In an adhocracy, there are few formal rules and hardly any hierarchy. As a result, an organization has a lot of flexibility and powers of innovation. Since then, models of this type have continued to improve, resulting in new modern organizational types.

IT departments have failed to keep pace

For whatever reason, all these modernizations in organizational structures seem to have passed IT departments by. Even worse, most IT organizations are still run based on a technical bureaucracy: centralized at the top, with numerous hierarchical levels (CIO, IT manager, team leads, coordinators, officers) with rules, procedures and teams divided up by specialism.
Has the rise of automation or agile working not changed anything? In fact, it hasn’t.
Automation actually helps sustain the technical bureaucracy, because it is based on measurable processes, standard procedures and set tasks. Agile approaches to work (and DevOps  as well) offer no solution to this. While they may resolve the disadvantages of the project line within a matrix organization, they do nothing about the line organization. Because of this, agile working helps keep technical bureaucracy in place. 
As a result, IT departments continue to work like factories from the nineteenth century: a demotivating environment, a lack of flexibility and limited powers of innovation. And certainly not appealing to the new generation of IT specialists.

The solution: get rid of the IT department

The best solution for dragging the IT department into the modern age is quite obvious: don’t have a separate IT department any more. Although this may sound radical, it can easily be achieved by combining outsourcing with the safeguarding of IT knowledge in a modern, decentralized organizational structure. As a result, IT knowledge can be deployed where it is needed, rather than tucked away in a separate, specialist department. 
Other – less radical – methods of modernization include: process automation, issuing management with real-time IT status updates using dashboards, rotating staff between teams within and outside IT, individualized coaching and continuing to make concerted efforts to identify challenging projects and new opportunities for technical innovation. 
If effectively organized, the decentralization of IT knowledge can increase flexibility, reduce complexity and deliver a significant reduction in costs. 

YaWorks has specialized in this way of working and is the perfect partner for outsourcing. We are home to the latest technological knowledge of digital infrastructure and have qualified IT staff in the fields of automation, cloud, networking and data centers. Our colleagues work at numerous Dutch and international companies at decentralized locations. Equipped with wide-ranging knowledge, they can really make a difference in projects that matter. 

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